I’m going to talk about the why, where, and how of the box
of decomposing food scraps in my kitchen. But first off, Time Out New York Kids, the local parenting magazine, will be
running my Wednesday posts on their site as a way to apprise parents of green
issues. Welcome, new readers! No Impact Man, if you’re just joining us, is my
experiment in trying to adopt as low an environmental impact as possible for my
family while living in
As for the issues to do with composting, there’s a lot of talk about products being better if they are biodegradable. You know, like disposable cups made out of corn starch so that when you throw them in the garden they return to the earth in a couple of months and nourish it. And, I’m guessing—and I emphasize guessing (experts please weigh in because I’m still researching all this)—that corn starch disposable cups are environmentally better for a bunch of reasons, including lesser use of petroleum (though I still prefer reusable cups to recyclable).
But unless you have a back yard, say, and that’s where you dispose of your biodegradable waste, it isn’t going to biodegrade. The problem is the design of the modern landfill (which you can read about in Elizabeth Royte’s fascinating Garbage Land). The landfill is not designed to help things to biodegrade, which requires contact with air and water. Instead, landfills hermetically seal their contents away from the environment to protect it from the toxic things in the landfill that aren’t biodegradable (of course, the seal breaks down in 70 years and leaves a toxic mess for our grandchildren to deal with, but that’s another story).
What this means, is that organic things like apple cores and yesterdays newspapers and cornstarch cups, when dumped in the landfill, either don’t break down at all—and certainly don’t end up returning nutrients to the earth—or they break down anaerobically, which means they produce methane, a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
So…what I’m trying to get to is that the whole point of biodegradable products is moot if they end up in the landfill. For the same reasons, sending kitchen scraps to the landfill is not so good either. This is all a long-winded way of saying why I compost.
Now to the how of my composting, a process one doesn’t
usually associate with living in a 750 square foot apartment in the middle of
The other thing I do is I drop off my excess food scraps (a
worm can only eat so much, you know) at compost pick up points provided by the
Of course, if you have a yard, you can start a conventional compost and you can find instructions here. But then you wouldn’t have your kids jumping up and down begging to see “da worms.”
This post also appears
in my Green Parenting column for Time Out
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.